"Hopefully after Berklee I will continue to improve in all facets and be able to write interesting music without starving," says Bryan Deister in his bio, reciting the classic creed of the starving artist. Deister is a student at Berklee College of Music, one of the country’s premiere music education institutions. In his music he applies dark overtones to the compositional styles he’s gleaned from his studies, a range that incorporates techniques found throughout the 20th century, from John Cage to John Lennon.
Last December, Deister released an ambitious double LP called Spines of the Heart. Technically trained in classical, jazz, blues and more contemporary styles, the composer combines each tradition to create hauntingly erudite pieces of music.
On Spines, Deister plays the role of auteur, doing everything (lyrics, vocals, instruments, recording, mixing and the covert art) except the mastering himself. The overarching ethos of the record, one of brooding melody and forward-thinking polyrhythms is akin to Radiohead’s “electronic” album, King of Limbs – check out the record’s fourth track, “Have You.” From there, though, the 22-song tome digresses in myriad directions.
“Approaching,” for example, borrows the chilling vocal contours of Jeff Buckley, while “Into the Sky” is built on a sonorous four-part harmony. In "Gone," Deister howls “I’m going to kill myself in your eyes” in an operatic plea, evoking the little-known, Buckley-esque character of progressive rock band, Ours.
The macabre undertones are everywhere, in lyric and sound, and Deister is unsparing with his use of dissonance. With immense vulnerability, the composer wends through experimental song forms, and though he mostly executes his ideas in standard rock instrumentations, little can ever be anticipated. In his vocals – his most salient instrument – Deister invokes the unpredictable, left-handed turns of Deftones. Check out the irresolute apotheosis of “What You Want,” for example, or the metal-inflected, 13-minute sound collage that caps the record.
Spines of the Heart is far-reaching and entrenched in the avant-garde, and as such it's likely inaccessible to most. Its honesty is admirable, though, and Deister's sound is unique to him – a rarity in today's surfeit of musical ideas. If he can remain wholly unapologetic, and if he can find a balance between the esoteric realms of Cage and the more palatable stylings of Lennon, we could see something special indeed.